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Jennifer Cheavens

Mentor Spotlight

Jennifer Cheavens is an Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Training in the Department of Psychology at the Ohio State University (OSU). Jen earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, after completing her internship year at Duke University Medical Center (DUMC). Following her internship year, Jen completed a post-doctoral fellowship through an NIA-sponsored T32 award at the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development. After three years on the faculty of DUMC, Jen accepted a position at OSU and has been there since. Jen directs the Mood and Personality Studies research group at OSU, where she supervises both graduate and undergraduate researchers conducting investigations aimed at characterizing and improving treatment for disorders of emotion dysregulation, including borderline personality disorder and depression. Jen also studies ways to incorporate client strengths into treatments. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate-level courses, in addition to providing supervision in the Dialectical Behavior Therapy clinic. Jen has been recognized with a university-wide award from OSU for excellence in teaching.

1. For how long have you been a member of ABCT?

I’ve been a member of ABCT since 2000 (when it was AABT). I joined as a graduate student and have maintained my membership ever since.

2. What type of mentor do you aspire to be? Do you have a mentorship philosophy?

I aspire to be the kind of mentor who knows how to get the best out of people. In my experience, the best mentoring is in the context of a caring relationship in which your mentor knows what you want and has your best interests at heart. I believe if I am deeply invested in each of my students as people, then the rest will follow. If I know their goals, values, and priorities then I can meet them where they are and challenge them in ways that help them move toward their goals.

3. What practices do you engage in that foster your mentorship style?

I try to maintain authenticity and transparency in my relationships, including my mentoring relationships. When we know each other well and like each other, it is so much easier to work together, so I spend a significant amount of time with my trainees. I have found that regular one-on-one time helps me to know them as whole people. Relatedly, we as a lab celebrate professional and personal wins. When a student has a paper accepted or submits a grant or gets married or has a baby, we celebrate that together.

4. What are your strengths as a mentor?

My primary strength as a mentor is that I genuinely care about my students and their success. I have faith in each of them; I know they can flourish and meet their goals. I know that they are on a path in which they can be truly happy and fulfilled in their professional and personal lives. Essential to this is caring enough to deliver difficult feedback. I respect my students enough to let them know what I think and I assume they can handle feedback of all sorts — the cheerleading and encouragement, as well as the pulling for more.

5. Whom do you perceive to be your most influential mentors? Describe the main lessons that you have learned from your mentors.

I have been so lucky to have some truly tremendous mentors in my life. My most influential mentor, professionally, was my graduate school mentor, Rick Snyder at the University of Kansas. Rick really emphasized the importance of giving more than you take. He believed that you should constantly be striving to make the world a better place, even in small ways. Also, he was a lifelong learner and modeled the continuous approach of new questions with a child-like curiosity. I really loved that about him.

I also have learned so much from the peer mentors in my life – the people with whom I’ve worked most closely at each stage of my career. By watching my friends and colleagues I’ve learned: you’ve got to put yourself out there; the journey is much more fun when you have your people with you; it is possible to help others and be productive; and don’t pull the ladder up behind you.

6. What do you tend to look for in potential mentees?

The primary attribute I look for in potential mentees is intellectual curiosity. I get very excited by new ideas and working as a team to answer questions – even when the work is tough. I really want students who find it fun to dig into the process of answering questions with me. Additionally, it is really important for me to have good citizens in my research group. I look for students who are able to balance their own goals with the goals of the group. Additionally, because I have very high expectations for my students and prefer to communicate directly with them, I value mentees who are receptive to feedback and are committed to investing in their own growth.

7. What advice would you give to other professionals in your field who are starting out as mentors?

I think it is difficult to give broad advice on mentoring, as it is an activity that is so intertwined with one’s personality. I think it is important to develop a mentoring style that works for you. I’ve had mentors with radically different styles who each taught me some very important lessons. I also think it is probably a good idea to continue to look for examples of excellent mentoring all around you – in your mentors, your peers, your students – and then try to steal all their best stuff!

8. What do you enjoy doing for fun/relaxation?

I read quite a bit; I love to try new restaurants; and I really enjoy traveling. I have terrific friends from all the stages of my life and an amazing family so I try to spend as much time with those folks as possible.

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